Senior partner Bruce G. Habian obtained a defense verdict in a cervical spine surgery case, Westchester Supreme Court. The plaintiff, an athletic middle-aged woman, presented with minimal pre-operative symptoms (left arm tingling and neck pain). However, CT and MRI workup revealed multi-level pathology at C3 through C6; the differential diagnoses included lymphoma/herniated discs ventral to the spinal cord. Once a PET scan ruled out a malignancy, two anterior discectomies were performed. Post-op pain and symptoms were extensive following the first operation and were not relieved by the second operation and were permanent. These included right-sided body burning, hand weakness, inability to ambulate, bowel and bladder dysfunction, with all disabilities confirmed in rehab records.
Plaintiff claimed intra-operative trauma during disc removal that had directly injured the cord; this was supported by treating neurosurgical record entries. The defense capitalized on a pre-operative diagnosis of cord edema and myelomalacia, per the pre-op films which demonstrated a significantly compressed cord as well as interruption of the CSF at several levels. No dural tears nor hematomas occurred during surgery. Re-expansion/re-perfusion edema was established as the cause of the post-op deficits. While re-perfusion is well-recognized concerning brain pathology, the testimony extended the causation issues to the spinal cord per se.